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Buddhist Ethics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 23 Jun 2005
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About the Author
Damien Keown is Reader in Buddhism at Goldsmiths College, University of London. His entire academic career has been devoted to research in Buddhist ethics, and he has been teaching the subject for over 20 years. He is also Editor of The Journal of Buddhist Ethics and Coeditor of The Curzon Critical Studies in Buddhism series.
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The author does indicate that the book requires prior knowledge and also that those that want to develop a more comprehensive understanding should read "Buddhist Ethics" by Hammalawa Saddhatissa and "Introduction to Buddhist Ethics" by Peter Harvey with which I completely agree. I also suggest " Beyond Religion", "Ethics for a whole world" by the Dalai Lama.
This diversity of views the author presents on the subjects treated is not unique for Buddhism. That is the same in Christianity and Islam. All spiritual traditions have some extremist adherents with views that are far removed from the intentions of the founders. In summary the book is interesting for those that would like to compare different Buddhist views on very important ethical issues with the differing views in other spiritual traditions.
The present book begins with an exploration of some traditional Buddhist concerns and a discussion of the meta-ethics of Buddhist teachings, locating its concerns, with some reservations, in the domain of virtue ethics.
It has an interesting section on the lack of a tradition of formal ethical thinking within Buddhism, although the given explanations relied too much on external factors such as politics. Perhaps more could have been made of the absolute - and therefore perhaps unspoken - centrality of ethics to the Buddhist way of life?
In the next chapters I began to feel a little worn down. The author takes a topical theme in each chapter and presents a potential Buddhist approach to each subject. This whistlestop tour to modern morality takes in abortion, cloning, ecology, sexuality and war and terrorism.
These are weighty, worthy subjects - and you can't fault the author's sincerity in attempting to shed some light on aspects of great concern in our world.
However, I felt the approach was a little heavy handed and was rather too focused on the metaphysical aspects of Buddhism - in particular, Karma. To my mind the urgent relevance of Buddhism lies in its practical applications.
Karma, rather than being a hard-to-believe doctrine of death and rebirth, should be seen, allied to mindfulness, as a pathway toward enlightenment in the world around us today.
As a result of the over-emphasis on metaphysics the book became laden down with a rather conservative and punitive worldview of right and wrong, not unlike the religiosity of some of our Christian churches.
I also found the book's rather cursory and unrepresentative mention of Zen Buddhism a little perplexing.
The book does have a good discussion of the concept of engaged Buddhism, and it has made me aware of the online Journal of Buddhist Ethics (Keown is the founding editor of the journal).
Overall, the book was interesting but there are better guides available.
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